It probably doesn't hurt much that NBA superstar Kyrie Irving is a flat-Earther, but some denialism can have serious consequences.
Beth Dalbey, Patch Staff
Beth Dalbey, Patch Staff
We Americans like to boast about how smart we are as a nation, but in some instances our collective beliefs demonstrate the exact opposite. Some of us blithely cling to beliefs that have been disproven in what is called “denialism” or the “illusory truth effect,” the latter a short circuit in the human psyche that puts repetition on par with the truth.
Denialism is simply a person’s choice to defy scientifically proven facts and live in their happy places where they don’t have to confront their own ignorance — a black is white and white is black type of thing, according to published research.
The motives of denialists vary. Some may be lured by corporate largesse to deny compelling science about climate change or the adverse health effects of smoking. Others driven by ideology or faith reject science that is incompatible with their belief systems. And the lure of celebrity status simply by espousing nonsense encourages more eccentricity and idiosyncrasy by the most outspoken denialists, according to psychologists.
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One of the most disastrous effects of denialism is the environment of hate and suspicion it creates. For example, denial of genocide isn’t just an attempted coup d'état on irrefutable historical fact, it’s an assault on all its victims — those killed, those who survived and all of their their descendants. Failure to accept the safety of childhood vaccinations can put entire populations at risk. The ripple effect can be significant.
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Here are 10 things some Americans believe that aren’t true:
Dumb Americans: What-Nazi-Holocaust? Edition
That there are people who think the World War II Nazi Holocaust, one of the darkest chapters in world history, never happened is stupefying, and some of them want you to vote for them in elections. To believe it requires discrediting mountains of evidence to the contrary and abandoning reason. Among the politicians in this camp are Art Jones, who won the Republican primary earlier this year for an Illinois House race.
This Holocaust denier’s campaign website calls the genocide of millions of Jews “the biggest, blackest lie in history” and claims “there is no proof such a so-called ‘Holocaust’ ever took place anywhere in Europe against the Jews.”
A recent poll commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found big gaps in Americans’ historical knowledge about the Holocaust: Two-thirds of millennials and four in 10 Americans overall don’t know what Auschwitz was; 49 percent millenials were unable to name a single concentration camp or ghetto, compared to 45 percent of adults; and just over half thought Adolf Hitler came to power in a coup, rather than in Germany’s democratic election.
Additionally, nearly a third far underestimate the number of Jews killed. Deborah Lipstadt, the author of “Denying The Holocaust: The Growing Assault On Truth And Memory,” told NPR the 6 million figure is so generally accepted by historians that it’s become “almost a noun more than a number.”
There is some hope, though. Historian Peter A. Schulman said after the poll’s release in April that Americans’ knowledge of Holocaust history has actually improved. While 11 percent of Americans did not know what the Holocaust was, 32 percent didn’t know anything about it in a 1985 poll.
Dumb Americans: Understanding The ‘Guvment’ Edition
People wrap themselves in the Constitution at political rallies and warp the Bill of Rights to suit their political purposes, but a 2017 poll from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center reveals profound ignorance about the nation's most important documentst.
For example, 37 percent could not name a single right protected by the Bill of Rights, only 26 percent could name all three branches of government (a big slip from 2011, when 38 percent aced that question) and 33 percent could not name a single branch of government.
Also, more than half — 53 percent — said undocumented immigrants have no rights under the Constitution. That’s not true. The courts have ruled consistently that some rights apply undocumented immigrants, although they're not always extended in good faith. For example, everyone in the United States, regardless of their citizenship, is entitled to due process of law.
Calling the results of the poll “worrisome,” Annenberg director Kathleen Hall Jamieson said “protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are.”
Sadly, Americans are becoming dumber about the basic tenets of democracy and how government functions. In a 2010 Pew Research Center poll, only 28 percent were able to name the chief justice of the Supreme Court, compared with 43 percent who were able to name the chief justice in a 1986 poll.
Dumb Americans: Lost-In-Space Edition
No cheating here with your browser, does the Earth orbit the sun, or does the sun orbit the Earth?
Demonstrating a lack of understanding of one of the fundamental principles of basic science, one in four Americans thinks the sun orbits the Earth, according to a National Science Foundation study. The opposite is true.
Here’s the real deal: The Earth orbits the sun because of the pull of the sun’s gravity. Does Sir Isaac Newton ring a bell at all? Anything about an apple? Well, 300 years ago, Newton solved one of the most baffling riddles of his time with his epiphany.
“Newton realized that the reason the planets orbit the Sun is related to why objects fall to Earth when we drop them,” NASA explained. “The Sun's gravity pulls on the planets, just as Earth's gravity pulls down anything that is not held up by some other force and keeps you and me on the ground. Heavier objects (really, more massive ones) produce a bigger gravitational pull than lighter ones, so as the heavyweight in our solar system, the Sun exerts the strongest gravitational pull.”
Dumb Americans: Slipping Off The Edge Of The World Edition
In 2018, there are still people who think that if they venture too far off the horizon, they’ll slip off the edge of the world. The members of the Flat Earth Society claim irrefutable evidence the planet is a disc, despite centuries of science to the contrary.
“There are several readily apparent proofs of the planets flatness,” the site claims. “The horizon always rises to meet eye level — which is impossible on a ball earth. The surfaces of bodies of water has been shown to be level. If the Earth was a Globe, this would not be the case. There is no visible curvature to the horizon even from airplanes. We don't even have a full shot of the Earth rotating from space! One almost has to ask — is there any real evidence the Earth is a Globe?”
Flat-earthers got a big boost last year when then-Cleveland Cavaliers superstar Kyrie Irving said he believes the earth is flat.
"This is not even a conspiracy theory," Irving said during a podcast. “The Earth is flat. What I've been taught is that the Earth is round. But if you really think about it from a landscape of the way we travel, the way we move and the fact that, can you really think of us rotating around the sun and all planets aligned, rotating in specific dates, being perpendicular with what’s going on with these planets?”
Later, Irving hinted he was making a political statement. His claim the Earth is a flat plane became a bane to middle school teachers after his young fans began parroting him in class.
Dumb Americans: Evolution Convolution Edition
Many people who reject the idea of evolution believe that humans and dinosaurs were roaming the Earth at the same time and it was “Jurassic Park” all day long, every day of the week, which is contrary to scientific evidence
Yet 34 percent of Americans reject evolution entirely and believe humans have existed in their present form for thousands or tens of thousands of years, according to a Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Study.
Pew said 62 percent of U.S. adults believe humans evolved over time. Of that group only 33 percent said humans and other living beings evolved solely due to natural processes; 25 percent of them say evolution was guided by a superior being.
Dumb Americans: We’re Smarter Than We Were Edition
Americans are getting smarter about it, but about 20 percent of U.S. adults continue to deny climate change is happening, according to a spring 2018 survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Scientists have settled this. NASA says multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists concur that climate-warming trends over the past century are real and are extremely likely due to human activities. The position has been endorsed in public statements issued by most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide.
More than half, 58 percent, believe climate change is primarily caused by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels to power cars, factories and homes, the Yale survey showed.
And while a lot of Americans are still burying their heads in ever-hotter sand and deny climate change, the number who believe the world’s climate is changing and its oceans are getting warmer increased 7 percent from Yale’s March 2015 survey.
Their certainty increased 12 percentage points in three years, according to the Yale survey, and 49 percent of respondents are now “extremely” or “very sure” the climate is changing.
The shift has taken some time, but the survey showed six in 10 Americans are now connecting the dots between climate change and extreme weather events — meteorologists rewrote the dictionary of terms like bomb cyclone to describe extreme weather events earlier this year and it rained so much during Hurricane Harvey the NWS had to add two new colors to its graphics to track the event.
Also, 4 in 10 Americans said they’ve personally experienced climate change, which Yale said was up 10 percentage points since 2015. Still, 20 percent said they don’t think humans are willing to make the behavioral changes required to reverse the global warming trend, and 6 percent don’t believe nations can work together to combat climate change.
Dumb Americans: Yet The Birthers Persisted Edition
Declaring at one time he didn’t have time for the “silliness,” President Obama nevertheless released his his birth certificate in 2011, which should have been enough to quell the so-called “birther movement,” which claimed the 44th president was born in Kenya rather than the United States. For the record, Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Aug. 4, 1961.
Even while he was still on the campaign trail, now-President Trump, one of the chief purveyors of the claim, backed off — and admitting he was wrong isn’t something he does casually.
But birthers are persistent. In late 2017, a YouGov survey showed 51 percent of Republicans still think Obama was born in Kenya, compared with just 14 percent of Democrats. Trump supporters were mostly likely to believe the false claim, with 57 percent saying it was “definitely true” or “probably true” that Obama was born in Kenya.
Dumb Americans: The Anti-Vaxxers Edition
A wealth of studies, including from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, establish that measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine doesn’t cause autism.
Still, a 2015 Pew Research Center survey found nearly 2 in 10 Americans thinks vaccines are unsafe or don't know. Skepticism fell fairly evenly across party and demographic lines.
Young people ages 18-29 were more likely than senior citizens to distrust vaccines. About 15 percent of Americans in the younger age group and 4 percent over 65 believe vaccines are unsafe, according to the poll.
Dumb Americans: Sex And Baby’s Gender Edition
There are so many ways to go here — even without touching the ill-conceived belief by some that it’s OK to wash and reuse condoms — but it turns out some Americans think the position a couple chooses during lovemaking can dictate the gender of the baby.
Some of the theories: Have sex standing up for a boy, but stick to the missionary position for a girl. There are some other doozies buried in folklore: For a boy, load up on meat and salty foods and do the deed during a quarter moon. For a girl, have a sweet dessert and get it on during a full moon.
Fertility expert Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg told Parents’ magazine that though people have for centuries been trying to increase the chances of having a boy or a girl in their lovemaking, there are no “positions that can influence the gender of the baby.”
Dumb Americans: Wherever You Are, There You Are Edition
As the story goes, wars are fought to teach Americans geography. In the midst of the Iraq war in 2006, six in 10 young adults couldn’t find Iraq on a map of a Middle East. The Roper survey also found that 75 percent of those surveyed could not identify Iran or Israel.
They’re not much better at U.S. geography. Only about half could find New York State on a map.
Does it matter?
Geography is “a superb antidote to isolationism and provincialism,” Harm de Blij wrote in “Why Geography Matters,” claiming “the American public is the geographically most illiterate society of consequence on the planet, at a time when United States power can affect countries and peoples around the world.”
And it’s not going to get much better, according to Alec Murphy, a professor of the University of Oregon.
“The paucity of geographical knowledge means there is no check on misleading public representations about international matters,” he told The New York Times.
There you have it. How dumb is America? Discuss in the comments below.
Lead photo: A stone references the former Auschwitz concentration camp at the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism in Berlin, Germany. A recent survey by a Jewish organization shows two-thirds of millennials and four in 10 Americans overall don’t know what Auschwitz was.(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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